From new traffic patterns to new brands of cereal, moving to the United States from abroad can bring up all sorts of new experiences and questions. One thing you may have to deal with is creating a credit history in the US. Perhaps you held credit cards overseas, but that history won’t necessarily travel with you — and foreign transaction and service fees may make it impractical to use that card in the States.

Even if you primarily use a debit card, you may need evidence of a credit history in the United States. That’s because credit history can be an important factor in rental applications, car loans and certain employment decisions.

“When I moved to the United States to get a job, I had never had a credit card before,” says Ana Martinez, a call center representative in Jersey City, New Jersey, who moved from the Dominican Republic a decade ago. “I didn’t think I needed one since I liked tracking my budget by using a debit card, but I was surprised when my apartment rental application got flagged because I didn’t have a credit history.” Due to her lack of credit history, Martinez was asked to provide six months’ rent in advance — a sum she didn’t have.

“That experience motivated me to figure out how to build my credit,” says Martinez, who opened a secured credit card with a $500 deposit. A year later, not only had that card “graduated” to a non-secured card (which means that Martinez got the deposit back) but her credit score was also in the “good” range — and she was able to pass the credit check required by her new landlord.

Here are some tips for how and why to consider opening a secured credit card once you’ve moved to the United States:

First, Open a Bank Account

Before you can apply for a secured credit card, you generally need to have a US bank account as well as a social security number, and a US address. Once you have those, you’ll need to provide a deposit for a secured credit card. The deposit is equal to the credit limit your card will have, and the limit varies depending on issuers. The Discover it® Secured card, for instance, offers as high as a $2,500 limit and deposit.

Use Your Secured Card for Monthly Purchases

Even if you’ve traditionally relied on cash or debit for budgeting, it’s a good idea to make regular use of your secured credit card. That’s because using — and paying back — your card proves to lenders that you’re reliable. One option might be to designate a monthly bill, like your cell phone or cable bill, that you’ll pay for with your credit card.

Pay Attention to Your Credit-utilization Ratio

Another factor that credit bureaus use to assign a credit score is your credit-utilization ratio. This is how much debt you owe compared to how much credit you have. In other words, if you have a limit of $500 and a $400 balance, your credit-utilization ratio will be 80 percent. In general, it’s a good rule of thumb to keep your credit utilization ratio lower than 30 percent. If you do make a large purchase on your card, paying it back quickly (within several days) can keep the ratio low.

Use the Autopay Option

Another key factor in your creditworthiness is your ability to pay your bills on time. That’s why an autopay option can help ensure that your bill is always paid, even if you’ve had a busy month. And while autopay can help you avoid a missed payment, it’s a good idea to check your credit card balance every week or so, and make payments whenever you can. You never know at what point during the month your credit card company will report to one of the credit reporting bureaus, and keeping a balance low or close to zero will also keep your credit-utilization ratio low — a sign that you’re being responsible with credit.

Use Your Secured Card as a “Regular” Credit Card

To a merchant, a secured card and an unsecured card operate in the same way. As such, you can use your secured card the same way you would any other credit or debit card. Using a secured card may also give you more robust fraud protection than you would have if you were using your debit card, since the money used for transactions isn’t pulled directly from your bank account.

Take Advantage of Credit Card Rewards

One advantage of using a secured credit card over a debit card is being able to take advantage of credit card reward options. For example, the Discover it® Secured card offers 2 percent cash back on gas and restaurants on up to $1,000 on combined purchases per quarter, as well as 1 percent cash back on all other purchases.

Credit scores are updated each month, so using your secured card regularly and responsibly can help you build a US-based credit history. This history is evidence that you’re a reliable borrower, and it may be helpful when it comes to apartment applications, car loans, mortgage applications and more.

Legal Disclaimer: This site is for educational purposes and is not a substitute for professional advice. The material on this site is not intended to provide legal, investment, or financial advice and does not indicate the availability of any Discover product or service. It does not guarantee that Discover offers or endorses a product or service. For specific advice about your unique circumstances, you may wish to consult a qualified professional.